Naoko Ikeda • The Graded Collection

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Following the success of my series of three Graded Gillock collections published by Willis Music last year, I was delighted to be asked to compile a companion collection showcasing the wonderful music of Japanese composer Naoko Ikeda. The collection, now available from Willis Music, can be purchased from the Musicroom website here.

Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection includes 24 of Ikeda’s best solo piano pieces, organised in approximate order of difficulty and appropriately grouped according to the UK Grade system from Grade 2 to Grade 5 level.

These stunning pieces would make wonderful selections as “own choices” in Performance Grades, and with six pieces for each of the four grades covered, they provide a rich feast to enhance the player’s development throughout their intermediate playing years.

The pieces have been chosen to offer a flavour of the musical range of this fine composer, ranging from jazz and pop ballads to emotive pieces infused with the musical language and imagery of Japanese culture.

In the introduction that follows I will offer background to the collection in greater depth, as well as including my own piano recordings of 8 of the 24 pieces, which give a varied, representative preview of the collection.

You will also hear from Naoko Ikeda herself, as she shares about her creative journey in her own words…

Introducing the Graded Collection

Naoko Ikeda grew up in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, where she continues to live, teach, and compose. Fully immersed within a music-loving family, Ikeda began singing lessons at the age of four before taking up piano, developing her love for a wide range of music. Inspired by the piano works of William Gillock, Ikeda’s own compositions combine Gillock’s infectious, contemporary approach with her idiomatic passion for Japanese culture.

My first encounter with this extraordinary music was Ikeda’s 2022 collection Aya, which I reviewed here. Introducing these pieces into my teaching convinced me that they were of great pedagogical as well as musical value. I set about discovering more of Ikeda’s music, building a collection of her many publications and communicating my considerable enthusiasm to colleagues.

Beginning with Shoukei, published by Willis Music in 2004, Ikeda has well over a dozen collections in print, as well as many more individually published sheets. Influenced by classical music, jazz and pop, Ikeda lists William Gillock as a particular inspiration, and her music has a similarly accessible range of characters, reflecting her diverse tastes with beauty, elegance and humour.

Given free rein to explore this treasure trove, I have selected a half-dozen pieces suitable for each level, showcasing the range and quality of Ikeda’s achievement. The pieces that I have selected are as follows:

Raft of Flowers (Hana-Ikada)
Moon Flute
Through a Flower Field
Lily of the Valley
The White Rabbit
Evening Song

Soft Rain (Azisai)
Dark Blue Night
The Sparkling Night Sky
The Jungle

Autumn Lake
Chō (The Butterfly)
A Sea of Clouds
Moonlight Rose
The Midnight Ball

Land of the Midnight Sun
Valse Innocente
Foggy Blues
Wings of Snow
Manhattan Swing

You can listen to my own recordings of a selection of these pieces right here:

I am indebted of course to The Willis Music Company for their faith and support, but my deepest gratitude must be reserved for the composer herself: for creating such valuable repertoire; graciously giving her consent to this project; and offering her friendship throughout. I am truly honoured.

Naoko Ikeda’s music already has growing global appeal and I trust that my collection will contribute to its wide acceptance. I hope that you enjoy Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection and find as much pleasure and satisfaction in playing and teaching these pieces as I have.

Naoko Ikeda in her own words

Naoko Ikeda grew up in the beautiful city of Sapporo in northern Japan, where she still makes her home. A graduate of the Hokusai Gakuen school system with a piano performance degree from Yamaguchi College of Arts, Ikeda now maintains an energetic schedule as a teacher and composer.

While there is a short professional biography in each of Ikeda’s publications including The Graded Collection, I invited her to share a little more about her creative development:

“I think that my life as a child was the starting point for my many influences from art and music, and the experiences that led to my current method of composing.  My parents loved music, and there was classical music, popular songs, jazz, and movie music in the house. Being surrounded by different musical genres while growing up helped me to appreciate new music as an adult.

Another memory from childhood involves a collection of famous classical music records with picture books for children. We experienced stories while listening to music every day (Peter and the WolfSwan Lake, Carnival of the Animals, etc). After that, I would look through the fancy art books lined up on my father’s bookshelf and would make up my own childhood fantasy stories.

I also took singing lessons from the age of 4 before I started taking piano lessons. I couldn’t read the written notes yet, so I listened to the melody, learned the meaning of the lyrics, and finally the teacher would add the accompaniment. Adding harmony to the melody was a surprise, and I always looked forward to it.

When I compose, I first come up with a melody, and then add harmonies and rhythms to match the scene (the theme and story of the entire collection emerges from that). Based on the experiences I had when I was a child, I often reproduce things that I find beautiful through my music.

In my twenties, I was especially fascinated by the art and music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in France, including Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc.

As for my Japanese-style works, I grew up in Hokkaido (an area developed after the Meiji Era), so I have a unique interest and admiration for Japanese culture. By rearranging traditional Japanese scales in my own way and mixing them with Western chord progressions, my intent is to introduce the atmosphere of Japan to the performers in an approachable way.

I have also published Japanese editions of my original works, as well as a collection of elementary five-finger position arrangements.

I became interested in composing after playing Gillock’s Lyrical Preludes in Romantic Style. Written in all keys, this collection of songs is like looking at 24 paintings, and I was fascinated by the sound of commonly used chords harmonised in a beautiful romantic style. My admiration for this Gillock work was the driving force behind my composition of Duets in Colour books 1 & 2 (written in the 12 major and 12 minor keys).

There are countless composers, performers, and artists who have influenced me. During the pandemic, I found myself being drawn to the works of British composer Sir Karl Jenkins. His religious music is beautiful and it inspired me to complete Elegy (from Aya).

I believe that Naoko Ikeda: The Graded Collection offers an ideal introduction to this wonderful composer’s music, but would of course encourage you to explore her complete published catalogue!

Explore the Naoko Ikeda catalogue

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.